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Virtual celebration to honor APS 2020 grads

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

From left, standing 6 feet apart, Albuquerque Public Schools seniors Simran Bhardwaj, Elijah Martinez and Bianca Acosta say they are glad to have virtual Senior Celebration Videos to commemorate their graduation after ceremonies were postponed. APS will launch 21 Senior Celebration Videos the week graduations were to take place. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Bianca Acosta remembers how much she looked up to the seniors when she was a freshman at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School.

She saw them finishing strong after four years of hard work, representing their school and being honored in a graduation ceremony. It was a big incentive for her – to be in their shoes one day.

“That’s what honestly motivated me to strive, because I wanted to be like the seniors when I was a freshman,” she said.

The 18-year-old is a senior now, but the end of her high school career will lack the pomp and circumstance she pictured years ago.

COVID-19 resulted in school shutdowns for the rest of the academic year, and Albuquerque Public Schools announced earlier this month that high school graduation ceremonies scheduled for mid-May were canceled.

“I was crushed,” Acosta told the Journal.

Ceremonies could be rescheduled based on how the pandemic unfolds, district officials say.

But while Acosta may miss the chance to turn her tassel in May as she envisioned, the Atrisco senior and the rest of the class of 2020 will still be honored, thanks to a star-studded, virtual celebration in the works.

APS will launch 21 senior celebration videos the week graduations were to take place. Famous faces will be cheering on the seniors, including actor Neil Patrick Harris, who graduated from La Cueva High School, district officials say.

Acosta said it’s a good way to close the curtain on high school.

“I feel like since school ended so abruptly, people really didn’t get a chance to say any proper goodbyes or process that properly,” Acosta said. “So I really think we needed a sense of community like this to make people feel connected.”

The recordings will be customized for each of the 13 comprehensive and eight magnet schools and their students through photos and videos.

Elijah Martinez, a senior at School on Wheels Magnet High School, said he sent in his photo on Wednesday to his principal to be featured in the school’s video.

Because graduation is such a big event in a person’s life, Martinez said the senior celebrations help mark this time as momentous, even though the pandemic radically changed the way communities celebrate with one another.

All of the videos will premiere at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 13, on APS.edu and the district’s YouTube channel.

Simran Bhardwaj, a 17-year-old senior at La Cueva High School, was also upset about the semester ending without graduation, prom or her big orchestra trip to Disneyland. But now she has something to look forward to.

“In-person graduation being canceled is pretty upsetting, but I believe that the video is going to help a lot, ’cause everybody’s spirits are a little down about all the events that are getting canceled,” she said.

She said that her family will tune in when the videos go online and that she thinks extended family members who were supposed to attend her graduation will watch, too.

Bhardwaj said the video will be a much-needed end to high school.

“It’s important that the seniors receive closure, and the videos might help with that,” she said.

That’s exactly what APS is hoping for.

In a statement, Superintendent Raquel Reedy, who will give the introduction in the videos, said the virtual celebration aims to give a memorable farewell to seniors.

“I am so glad that we have found a way to celebrate the hard work and promising futures of these students,” Reedy’s statement said in part. “They deserve the best, and we want to make sure their send-off is something special.”

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